Back to Blog

Talk to Me Baby: A Baby’s Communication Clues

Published on Aug. 07, 2023

Do you ever wish you had a window into your baby’s mind? For babies, crying is a way to communicate and for many parents, especially first-time parents, understanding and reading your baby’s wants and needs can be challenging. Are they hungry? Tired? Need a diaper change? Want to be held? In pain? While there is no manual or translation book, subtle signs that your baby exhibits can provide clues about what they are trying to communicate to you. 

Regardless of whether your baby is breastfeeding or formula fed, they will exhibit certain cues that can clue you into when they are hungry and ready to feed. While crying can be a sign of hunger, it is usually a late sign. Once your baby is crying, it can take longer to calm them down and harder to get them to latch. While every baby is different, there are several common early hunger signs.

Cues when baby is hungry:
• Fists in mouth
• Head turning 
• Clenched hands
• Smacking lips
• Increased movement

It is important to let your baby feed until they are full. As with signs of hunger, babies also provide cues that can let parents know that they are finished feeding.

Cues when baby is full:
• Hands open and relaxed
• Closing mouth
• Moving mouth away
• Falling asleep
• Change in sucking pattern

You may wonder, how do I know my baby is actually feeding?

While breastfeeding is a natural process, it does not always come naturally. There’s a lot to learn, including how to know that your baby is getting sufficient milk during breastfeeding. Some babies feed from one breast, while others feed from both breasts. You may notice that your baby initially takes a few rapid sucks followed by slower, more rhythmic sucks and swallows. You should be able to hear your baby suck and swallow, and their cheeks should stay rounded and not hollowed out during nursing. Afterwards, your nipple may look the same, but your breast should feel softer and less engorged. Since a large component of breast milk is water (about 70%), another way to determine if your baby is feeding enough is by how many wet diapers they are making. For the first 6 days days, they should make as many diapers as the number of days they are old (a 4 day old has a minimum of 4 wet diapers). After 6 days of life, your baby should have a minimum of 6 to 8 wet diapers. Your baby’s doctor will also be checking weight and height at every visit to ensure that your baby is gaining enough weight, which will indicate that they are getting enough breast milk. This is one of the reasons your baby has frequent checkups in the first year of life. 

If you have any concerns or questions about breastfeeding or your baby’s nutritional needs, consult your pediatrician. And remember, while there is no concrete way of understanding exactly what a baby is communicating, always trust your intuition – your love and attention will make all the difference to your baby. 

About the Authors

Hailey Nelson, MD, FAAP, IBCLC is a complex care pediatrician at Valley Children’s Charlie Mitchell Children’s Center. Dr. Nelson enjoys working with children of all ages and abilities and is especially passionate about providing the best possible care to medically fragile children and their families. As the ambassador for Safe Kids Central California, she is a vocal advocate for children’s wellness and regularly appears in news media discussing pediatric healthcare. She is also a licensed breastfeeding consultant, certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultants to support nursing mothers and their babies.


Dr. Rosalie Perrot earned her medical degree from California Northstate College of Medicine and is currently a pediatric resident at Valley Children’s Pediatric Residency Program. She is passionate about bridging the gaps in medicine and challenging health care disparities to foster a practice that emphasizes equal, compassionate and high quality healthcare, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, gender or religion. Her special areas of advocacy interest include mental health awareness and preventative care for children of families of low socioeconomic status.